Report and photos by Adam Marsland.
Date: February 12, 2015
Participant: Adam Marsland
General Search Area: western slopes of low mountains dividing Upper and Lower Covington Flat.
Rationale for Search: Following up on isolated cell reception discovered in this area on JT74.
Impressions of Area and Findings:
The sides of the mountains are rocky and steep but not too treacherous if handled with care; the lower areas have a lot of vegetation and evidence of abundant wildlife (including tracks of a very large mountain lion).
Fair. If you buy that Bill was ever here in the first place, there are plenty of places he could still be. Near the 10.6 mile line, coverage was very good.
I finally got back around to revisiting the area searched during JT74, where a new spot of cell reception on the 10.6 mile radius was discovered. Given its proximity to a road, this area seems an unlikely spot for Bill to be, but I did sketch out a plausible scenario involving Bill retreating to this height of land after arriving at Upper Covington and failing to find help. It would be cooler, offer a better vantage point, and the possibility of cell reception. Given that a ranger was in the area as little as an hour after the ping, however, Bill must have not stayed here long. Today I wanted to check the possibility that Bill might have perished trying to get down from this height of land and flag down the ranger.
It was a nice day and I made quick progress on the drive from Los Angeles. On the way in, I spotted a Pathfinder pulled over on the side of the road at an odd spot and I wondered if it might be Tom, following up on his JT37 search as he had said he someday might. It seemed as logical a spot to search as any. Because of a recent hiking and yoga binge I myself was in much better physical condition than on any previous trip to JT. Too bad about the lack of sleep.
Arriving in the area, I immediately headed up toward the height of land bounding the northeast edge of Upper Covington and starting searching along the western escarpment. There were hints of cell coverage throughout, but I was never able to actually connect. The topography was fairly benign, but the way down immediately below the 10.6 mile line/ping spot was, to quote George Orwell, “double plus ungood.” Still, the point of the trip was to test the possibility this was where Bill came to grief, so in the name of science I worked my way gingerly along the slopes, at one point encountering a large white bird of prey perched in a tree. I tried stalking him until he flew off with a protesting cry.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I looked all ’round and didn’t find anything. I was fairly thorough in the area around the 10.6 mile line. I think if he had come down this way, I probably would have seen something; moreover, though I can easily believe someone wouldn’t stay put at Upper Covington in mid-July waiting for help (I wouldn’t), on second glance the height of land was just steep enough, and just far enough away from the road, to give me pause. I’m not sure Bill would have separated from the road to such a degree, though it’s certainly possible he might have come up here to get a call out and came right back down. Who knows.
Night fell on me before I could fully work my way back up and explore the northernmost end of the mountain range. Although I poked around at the bottom, I didn’t get to the areas further up. I did note, rather to my surprise, that there was a fairly well beaten animal (and human?) trail that seemed to lead up to the mini-peak at the northern end of this small range from the road into Upper Covington. I followed it for a little way before the darkness forced me to abandon it. Returning to the car, I tried to parallel the trail and the road on the off chance Bill might have perished under a tree while trying to make his way to civilization. All I accomplished was missing my car in the dark, something I seem to have a rare talent for.
Frankly, I am stumped. With the new information about cell accuracy, there would seem to be only three even remotely plausible candidates for the location of Bill’s ping, and strictly on the merits, today’s spot would seem to be the most plausible, and he could still be around here, but I’m not buying it. Moreover, my understanding now is that there was ranger at UC on Saturday as well as Sunday, and it’s hard to see how Bill would have gotten into this area during that time without running into one of them.
This will probably be my last trip out to Joshua Tree until I can come up with some new line of thinking – given my current understanding of the facts, there are very few places that cell ping could have plausibly come from and none of them make any sense. I’ve written down my thoughts on the current state of the case, including a run down of all the possible ping sites, on my own website at www.adammarsland.com/ewasko3.html. I also uploaded a fairly laid back highlight reel of today’s journey at http://youtu.be/6Z9AhxokdUE. Not much happened, but the iPhone 6 sure takes purty pictures.
GPS Mileage for this trip: 4.5 miles.
Cumulative GPS mileage to date: 847.9 miles